Waes hael! Drinc hæl!
Wassailing is a wonderful English custom that sadly seems to have been lost in the US, and I personally think it’s time to revive it. Last year I did some wassailing at 12th night and this year I’m planning to do it again. In fact, you might be reading this because you’re trying to figure out why there’s toast in your shower. A special hello to you!
There are two distinct types of wassailing: in the first, a band of merry revelers go door to door singing and demanding (or providing) booze. Now we’d call this caroling. You can learn more about this sort of wassailing here and here.
There’s another, perhaps earlier, wassailing custom: wassailing the orchard. This is essentially a fertility rite: revelers bring alcohol (either ale or cider) to the apple trees, sing them songs, and hang toast (soaked in cider) in their branches to ensure a good apple harvest for the coming year. You can learn more about wassailing the orchard here, here, and here.
For my new SCA Twelfth Night tradition, which I’m posting about to encourage all of you to do it too, I combined these two customs. I and a band of “wassailants” go around to people’s rooms, knock on their door, yell WASSAIL!, then hang a piece of toast in their shower and offer them a drink of cider. We chose the shower for the toast because it seems easiest to clean up. I’m hoping to add a musical component to this, too, but I don’t personally know any of the songs (except the Christmas carol that’s still popular) for wassailing. It’s a fun little mini history lesson, and a reminder that if you think authenticity isn’t fun, you’re reading the wrong books.